Egypt: Human Rights Situation Worsens with New Laws

Sisi Protest

Allegations of serious human rights violations are rampant since General Abdul Fattah El  Sisi took over power in Egypt after a successful military coup.  In today’s Egypt, state sponsored repression of Sisi’s political opponents, journalists, human rights activists are both numerous and regular.

To make matters worse, Egypt has recently enacted a law that places severe restrictions on aid groups working in the county. Initially due to widespread criticism from western officials, including US Senators John McCain and Lindsey  Graham, President Sisi hesitated to sign in the bill. However, General Sisi got the all-clear signal when  the US President Donald Trump bestowed lavish praise on him, which in the process  emboldened Sisi to sign the law.

President Sisi, who had a frosty relationship with former US President Obama,  was invited to the Trump White House as one of the first state heads during the early days of the new US administration.

Instead of pointing out the rights violations in Egypt, the new US President showered Sisi with unconditional praise.  Trump proclaimed that his Egyptian counterpart has a ‘great friend and ally in the United States and in me.’ Trump praised Sisi for his ‘fantastic job’, whatever that means.

A Tale of Egyptian Tragedy

The so called “Arab Spring” came to Egypt on January  25,  2011 when the Egyptian people ousted their longstanding strongman President Hosni Mubarak and shifted the country towards a democratic future. Chief among the triggers of the uprising in 2011 were growing levels of poverty and inequality, soaring unemployment, endemic corruption, police brutality and myriad human rights violations. A country that had been ruled for thousands of years  by one strongman after the other since the time of the Pharaohs, finally managed to have a fair election, which  saw Mohamed Morsi of Muslim Brotherhood elected as the president  in 2012.

Egypt being a divided country along secular and Islamist lines of politics, many Egyptians were still on the streets protesting against President Morsi’s victory in 2013. Sensing an opening, on 3 July 2013, the then minister of defense General Sisi ousted President Morsi from the office and took control of the government. Tens of thousands of Morsi supporters gathered at Rab’a Al-Adawiya square to protest the coup d’etat.  They blocked the area for 47 days until the security forces attacked their sit-in protesters and retook the control of the area on August 14,  2013.

Security forces resorted to a brutal cracked down on the Morsi supporters , resulting in  death of about 800 protesters. According  to the Human Rights Watch, the indiscriminate use of lethal force resulted in one of the world’s largest killings of demonstrators in a single day.

Instead of a democratic transition, General Sisi went for more power grab and power consolidation, as political persecutions reached new heights ever since. According to some estimates, more than forty thousand political activists had been taken to prison and violently tortured.

Amnesty International reported that ever since the “25 January Revolution”, the human rights outlook in Egypt remains grim.

Journalism and Free Speech Under Continuous Attack

Decades of authoritarian rule in Egypt have prohibited free flow of ideas and opinions.  Laws dating back to the early days of the Egyptian ruler Gamal Nasser ( i.e., Law 430/1955),  prohibits recording or distributing audiovisual works without a permit in order to “protect the public order, public morals, and the higher interests of the state.”

President Sisi, who had a frosty relationship with former US President Obama,  was invited to the Trump White House as one of the first state heads during the early days of the new US administration.

Journalists not serving the interest of the government in Egypt are frequently arrested and tortured.  Reporters of famous news media including Guardian and Al Jazeera had been detained. Several journalists of Al Jazeera were detained for months.

Over-use of Military Courts

Egypt has recently referred 48 people to military court for their suspected involvement in three deadly church bombings. However, military courts in Egypt have been used as a massive tool of repression as ordinary people regularly end up in military courts for even ordinary crimes.

Military courts have tried at least thousands of Egyptian civilians since October 2014, when President Sisi decreed a new law that expanded military court’s jurisdiction.  With tremendous expansion of military courts, now political prisoners are regularly being tried in these courts. Even ordinary industrial workers are being tried in military courts for merely exercising their rights to assembly.

Poverty, Unemployment, water crisis, insecure life multiplied with severe violation of human rights have entangled the lives of Egyptians. As the incumbent government are largely held responsible for the persecution and repression ravaging the normal lives of ordinary citizens, international observers must break their silence.

Instead of celebrating a repressive president in General Sisi , the world needs to speak up to defend human rights in Egypt.

About Masum Billah 37 Articles
Masum Billah is a Staff Writer for The GeoStrategists. A Graduate from the Department of International Relations at the University of Dhaka, Masum Billah is a human rights activist. He writes columns on human rights, foreign policy, and terrorism.
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